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How to Plan and Create Your First Website

written by: theinkandpen (Robert Mullon)•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 2/11/2010

At first glance, building your web site may seem overwhelming as there is so much to think about. We will avoid many of the technical aspects here, and focus on the very basic things for a successfully built project, from fast load-times to search-engine indexing.

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    First Considerations

    When thinking of a concept for your first site, it may seem daunting due to the many aspects of web development; for instance building an attractive ‘front-end’ – or the part of the site which everyone sees – and a smooth, functional ‘back-end’ – or the part of the site which is hidden and makes it work. In practical terms this means that a designer must have both the technical skills, related to the programming logic of the site, and the design skills to make the web site attractive to potential customers.

    A good design will therefore allow people to easily find content with short load times (i.e. cut unnecessary ‘bells-and-whistles’ such as surplus images or music) and will look good and appropriately themed with your business in order to attract more people.

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    Setting Your Goals

    Before deciding what your site should look like, you should have some ideas on what you want to achieve with it. If you set yourself goals it will be easier to monitor the progress of your site and therefore add to aspects of it which have been successful (i.e. add a news channel, a forum or a pay cart) or delete things which are not sought after or needed.

    Before setting yourself specific targets you will need to determine the following:

    • What kind of business you want to establish a web presence for (i.e. market consultants, online shop etc…) and how it would grow.
    • Whether you are establishing an entirely new business and therefore need to attract new clients, as opposed to one with a previously existing client base.
    • What kind of users you are planning on attracting, which will determine the content you are offering.

    After you have considered the above you can be more specific and set goals which you will aim at fulfilling over the course of the site’s growth; you can then regularly monitor the site’s progress and try and meet the basic aims which you’ve set yourself initially. Remain positive when setting yourself specific targets to aim for, even if you know that not all of them will be successfully met.

    Remember that your site will change as you gradually begin to gain insight into what is and isn’t needed, therefore your goals may also need to be re-adjusted. This also depends on changing trends – a business based on selling technological products for instance – and on whether your business will need to expand or not.

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    Planning Your Website

    After having looked at what you aim to do with your site you can create a plan. Planning the actual site design also becomes essential should you wish to hire a web designer (which is recommended), as you are expected to provide the plan for them to work on.

    You should now have some idea of the kind of business which you are planning to offer online and the target audience you are likely to attract as a result. Therefore you should also have an idea of the image you wish to project to potential new customers. You could start your plan with:

    • The layout for your ‘index’ page (or your starting page)
    • A colour scheme
    • A themed background or simple banner
    • The layout of the content for your site.

    Some helpful pointers:

    • Plan the number of pages
      • Find out beforehand how much content you are going to have. If you have more than ten pages they are generally accessed by a ‘sitemap’ not by having too many buttons, as it would only clutter the layout. A ‘sitemap’ is simply a drop down menu which includes every single section of your site, and is easily accessible at the top of your page.
    • Make the look consistent
      • Give your site the same look throughout. This means having the same background as your ‘index’ and easy to find content which will load quickly. If the layout is too confusing it will only drive people away.
    • Make your layout as ‘lean’ as possible
      •  The basic rule here is: if you don’t need it don’t add it. Have only what is strictly necessary and concentrate on good content rather than lots of it. Perhaps add a corporate banner/logo at the top and things which add to the image of your site rather than detract from it. Common mistakes include: looped music, large graphics, long scrolling which confuses visitors and a poorly organized layout.

    • Optimize your text for search engines (SEO)
      • When planning your text use keywords so that your site will appear top in searches. These words are included in ‘meta-tags’ (html code) and help a great deal when your site is indexed in various search engines. Spend some time researching effective keywords for descriptions related to your site.

    With these basic pointers you should be set on creating a plan for an effective design. Once you are done we can move onto how to put your site on the net, or what’s needed for it to go ‘live’.

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    Hosting and Domains

    In order for your site to be active, you need two things: a server which allows you to host your site online 24/7, and a web address (known as a ‘domain’). A web host generally charges monthly, every 6 months or yearly; a domain is purchased with a single flat-fee.

    There are so many different hosting packages and they all offer different things, from large bandwidth and disk space, to a control panel (cpanel) and free forum. The absolute essential things you need are:

    • A reliable host, with little ‘down-time’. Down-time means that your site will be off-line for a time, which may be a few hours to days; although all hosts have some down-time you want one which cuts maintenance down to a minimum.
    • Wide Bandwidth (approx. 3000 GB is good). This ensures no monthly restriction on content, images or music which you may have.
    • Adequate disk-space amounts. This will vary depending on what you need. If you have lots of images, videos or music then a lot of disk-space is required. 

    When you’ve done some research and chosen your host (either on Windows or Linux servers is fine) you can choose what the address for your page will be. Some hosting companies allow free domain registration, and some allow you to purchase domains via their company. This is a lot simpler in many cases. However you may wish to purchase a domain separately, since it can be cheaper.

    Some tips on choosing a name:

    • Keep it short and simple. No long names or names which are too specific, since your business is always liable to changes later.
    • Try not to separate the address with dashes, dots or hyphens. Unless this is absolutely necessary it’s not recommended and too confusing to remember.
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    A Brief Word About Top Level Domains

    A top level domain (TLD) is one that ends with .com or .net. If you are weary that other people may take the name of your business into their own web address, consider buying all the TLD’s (i.e. it-consultants.com, it-consultants.net etc…) for your business name. You can then ‘park’ these so that it’s assured nobody will use the name of your brand for their own site.

    There you have all the basics you need to build a successful site, ensuring the best functionality for your new or growing business